Brian Berthold spent years re-engineering a new suspension system for mountain bikes, and in 2008, got a shot to introduce his ideas to riders. In partnership with a major bicycle brand, Kona, Berthold's designs made it onto bikes — and the product took off.
"I licensed it...from 2008 to 2013," he says on the premiere episode of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists. " "[Kona] grossed $50 million in sales."
Despite the overwhelming success, Berthold only made a fraction of that, about $500,000 over the five years.
He missed out on a larger chunk of the earnings because of the deal he made: "With Kona, they paid for the patent. They paid for the development. They paid for the initial prototypes. So I couldn't really ask that much," Berthold explains on the show.
Berthold has learned from the mistake.
Motivated by Kona's sales, he went back to the drawing board and created a new suspension design. He calls it the "missing link," and says it is even better than the product he worked on for Kona, dubbed the "magic link. "
But, it wasn't easy.
"I probably had 1,000 iterations of [designs] on my computer," Berthold tells CNBC Make It. "This is like against all odds determination."
While engineering is usually just about incrementally improving something, Berthold wanted to reimagine the way a bike suspension works. To do that, he decided to start from scratch.
"Designing, usually you're kind of relying on something else that has been done," he explains. But when inventing something new, "You want to forget, disavow, any knowledge of what anyone else has done."
"This time I paid for the patent, I paid for the prototype," he says on the show, adding that he's sunk nearly $200,000 into the business. His bicycles sell for $7,000 at the high end, and $3,500 for a cheaper model.
"I decided I'd gone this far, I'm going to do it myself," he says.
It's part of Berthold's life's work. After serving in the Air Force for three years, Berthold graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1985 with a degree in mechanical engineering and went to work in professional car racing. He says he opted to pursue cars because at the time, there wasn't much complex engineering in bicycles.
"Bicycles were still the same as they had been forever, so I went into car racing," he says. But in the early 1990s, interest began to build around re-inventing the technology in bikes. That's when he started thinking about how to re-work suspensions.
Now, his dream is getting new life thanks to "Adventure Capitalists."
He hopes his new designs solve a problem for serious riders: mountain bikes either have soft suspensions for going over rocks and bumps, or hard suspensions for climbing up hills.
"Previously, it was just a compromise," Berthold says on the show while pitching the product to outdoor enthusiasts and investors Shawn Johnson East, Jeremy Bloom and Dhani Jones. "You knew that if you had a good suspension bike, it wasn't going to climb well."
Berthold came on the show seeking 500,000 for 10 percent equity in Tantrum Cycles, valuing the company at $5 million.
After hearing the pitch, former Johnson East agreed to invested $100,000 for 20 percent equity in the company (sharply negotiating down the value of the business). For Berthold, the former Olympian's pedigree was worth it.
"My brother-in-law is an Olympic cyclist, I've worked with Team Livestrong, I've worked with USA Cycling, I've been in that world for long enough to understand the amount of money, time and innovation they spend on taking off a millisecond in a race," she says on the show.
"The ability to grow this company and have a partner like Shawn, it's just fantastic," Berthold says. "I'm not alone anymore."
CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists " airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
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